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“…and a Muslim man donated the altar” …..
….. Archbishop Elias Chacour commented as he escorted a tour group around his new church in Ibillin, the Church of the Sermon on the Mount. His remark was greeted with gasps of astonishment. How could a devout Muslim make such a gift; a huge, beautiful and very expensive marble structure, which would be the centre of the celebration of the most sacred rite in Christianity? And how could a church accept it to be at the centre of every act of worship?The Archbishop replied that it was extremely generous of the Muslim man to donate the altar and everyone was very grateful. There was however, nothing extraordinary about this relationship between his congregation and the congregation at the mosque.
Many years previously, when Archbishop Chacour was a young priest in Ibillin, there was an unfortunate fire in the mosque and it became unusable. While restoration was taking place Archbishop Chacour invited the imam to bring his congregation to pray in the Melkite church. This fitted in quite conveniently as the main day of worship for Islam is Friday.
During the early years of the Archbishop’s ministry In Ibillin, when Sisters Ghislaine and Nazarena were at the parish house working in the community. They held a Sunday school for the children on Sunday mornings. Several Muslim children attended regularly, sent by their parents who felt confident that their children would learn all good things and no attempt would be made to convert them from their Muslim faith.
This openheartedness and respect for each other’s religion is central to peace and reconciliation work. As Archbishop Chacour says –
“Christianity does not have a monopoly over doing good.”
“Christianity does not have exclusivity or control over the Holy Spirit.”